Melissa Mellor

The Education and Public Health Intersection

Yesterday, Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a blog post that questions why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would become involved in health care reform. Here at the Whole Child Blog, we ask: "Why wouldn't he?"

Research and common sense have shown time and again that education and health are inextricably linked. Sick kids stay home, and they can't learn if they're not in school. Meanwhile, healthy kids are less likely to drop out of school, which means they are more likely to become adults with steady employment and longer, healthier lives. Health care reform would give all kids an equal chance at these benefits by providing coverage and preventative care to the millions of children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford the high cost of private health insurance.

The current H1N1 flu pandemic underscores the important connection between education and health. Secretary Duncan has worked closely with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; and representatives from other federal agencies to coordinate flu response that minimizes disruptions to learning. This type of collaboration needs to become the norm, and it needs to happen at local, state, and federal levels.

ASCD's Healthy School Communities Program provides local-level examples of schools that are working with their communities to supply children with healthy learning environments that support academic goals. Students at Barclay School in Baltimore, Md., are growing their own healthy food and learning about nutrition. Hills Elementary in rural Des Moines, N. Mex., has created a school-based health center that provides the community with health, mental health, and dental services. Successful school and community health initiatives like these mean kids are healthier, more likely to graduate, and less likely to deplete local health resources when they are adults.

Let's hope Secretary Duncan and his colleagues continue to recognize the intersection of education and public health and work together to support the whole child.

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